India-Canada relations are built upon commitment to democratic values, pluralism and people-to-people connect.
By Richie Santosdiaz and Rajesh Mehta
This is indeed the best time for India and Canada to improve its strategic and economic ties and to collaborate. This relationship is strengthened with the current conflicts of both countries with China, the Huawei incident and the positive move by Canada of respecting India’s sovereignty, unity and territorial integrity and not recognizing the referendum by Khalistani elements. Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi is also welcoming foreign companies and investors to invest in India and help in his dream of “Atmanirbhar Bharat” (“Self-reliant India”).
The India-Canada relations are built upon commitment to democratic values, pluralism and strong people-to-people connect. The world’s largest country by population, India, coupled with the second largest country in the world by land mass, Canada, have until now found various synergies that form the strong foundation both countries share. This was highlighted when there was a high-profile visit by Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau to India to meet Modi in 2018.
According to Ambassador Vishnu Prakash, Former Indian High Commissioner to Canada, “Our economies are complementary. India is strong in the services sector. Highly skilled Indian professionals lend a competitive edge to Canadian businesses. Resource-rich Canada is a major supplier of Uranium. Canadian pension funds are investing billions of dollars in India. Education, Energy and green-tech offer unlimited opportunities for collaboration.”
Indian diaspora plays an important role in improving the ties. For instance, Canada has a large Indian population, where within its total population of over 37 million people there are over one million Canadians of Indian descent. In terms of the economy, last year, Canada did more than $4.5 billion CAD ($3.35 billion USD) worth of trade with India, making the country Canada’s ninth-largest export market. In fact, this year right before the coronavirus impacted the global community, the trade between India and Canada rose to 62 per cent in the past five years, making India one of the fastest-growing export markets of Canada.
Despite the current pandemic, Indian High Commissioner to Canada Ajay Bisaria had recently said that merchandise trade has gone up 24 per cent during Covid-19 times and the investment from Canada to India has grown from US $5 billion to US $60 billion in the last 5 to 6 years. Also, the Canadian Federal Minister of Small Business, Export Promotion and International Trade had recently spoken with Piyush Goyal, Minister of Commerce and Industry and Minister of Railways of India, where the two are aiming to continue working closely on agricultural and other food products, especially securing predictable market access for Canada’s world-class pulses to India — a high priority for Canada
Key items exported by India to Canada are jewellery, cotton yarn, organic chemicals, coffee, spices, iron and steel articles, and textiles. Meanwhile, key products Canadian exporters sent to India were edible vegetables, roots and tubers; pearls precious stones or metals; fertilizers; ores slag and ash; and paper and paperboard. Interestingly, in terms of foreign direct investment (FDI), Canada’s FDI in India was slightly less in value (US $2.273 billion) as what India’s FDI was into Canada (US $2.561 billion). To put into context, there are over 2,000 Canadian companies that are currently doing business in India, which include Bombardier Transportation, McCain French fries and various software companies in India.
Canada under Trudeau has been pro-trade, not just with its current traditional partners like the United States and Mexico, where among the three had under push from US President Donald Trump what was formerly the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) became the United States Mexico Canada Agreement (USMCA). Under Trudeau other high-profile ones such as the Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement (CETA) between the European Union (EU) and Canada, as well as the Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Trans-Pacific Partnership (CPTPP) is a free trade agreement between Canada and 10 other countries in the Asia-Pacific region.
Although what appears to be sidelined for now, Canada and India were advancing on negotiations on a Foreign Investment Promotion Protection Agreement (FIPA) and a Comprehensive Economic Partnership Agreement (CEPA). This would, if approved and implemented, aim to strengthen ties. As what was shown previously, despite the current flows between both regions, there are still much more possibilities and synergies that can happen.
There is potential to further strengthen links between both regions. Especially now with Covid-19, there has been a further push for digital transformation. India, with its strong and highly educated talent pool, can work alongside Canadians to formulate unique solutions around a future that promotes fintech and other wider tech solutions. Also, other highly-skilled opportunities such as renewable energy, agriculture and agritech, edtech and medtech can benefit both.
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Since Trump is not welcoming skilled manpower from India, it might be the time for Canada to use talent from India, which can help in innovation and trust between two countries. H-1B visa restrictions would definitely help offshoring to both Canada and India. Indian students for whom US was a favorite destination have now started looking towards Canada after Trump administration’s inconsistent policy on student visas. As India continues to improve in World Bank’s Ease of Doing Business index, this is an opportune time for Canadian companies to increase their investments into India and new companies to enter the Indian market.
There is lot to cheer in India-Canada relations. According to Nadira Hamid, CEO of Indo Canadian Business Council, “The Indo-Canadian trade relations have taken on new dimensions with focus on sunrise sectors and emphasis on clean technologies to provide a solid foundation for clean, inclusive, sustained and sustainable growth. The positivity of the Canadian Pension Funds about investing in India is a hopeful sign of the emergence of an innovative eco-system, propelling India to the front ranks of the global economy.”
(Rajesh Mehta is a Leading International Consultant & Policy Professional. His twitter address is @entryindia and Linkedin address is https://www.linkedin.com/in/rajeshmehtaentryindia/
Richie Santosdiaz is an economic development and diversification subject matter expert, having worked with various governments in North America, Europe and the Middle East.)
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